MELBOURNE, Australia ― Japan is offering its Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft for a Franco-German requirement for a new aircraft. The move is part of the island nation’s efforts to secure its first major arms sale since a self-imposed ban on arms exports following World War II was lifted four years ago.

Two P-1s are currently in Berlin, Germany, participating in the ILA 2018 air show, with Reuters, citing Japanese government sources, reporting that Japan has asked P-1 manufacturer Kawasaki Heavy Industries, or KHI, to explore possible partnerships with France’s Dassault Aviation and Thales.

France and Germany are in the preliminary stages of a program to find a “European solution” to replace their respective anti-submarine maritime patrol aircraft. Their defense ministers are due to sign a letter of intent to formalize the plan at the air show, and a road map for the program is expected by June.

France wants to replace its Breguet Atlantique turboprop anti-submarine aircraft, and Germany is looking for a new platform to take over from the Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion it currently operates.

KHI will almost certainly face competition from Airbus for the Franco-German program. The European aerospace giant recently launched a military variant for its popular A320neo civil airliner, which it says can be customized for a wide variety of roles and missions depending on customer requirements.

Other potential contenders for the program include Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon multimission aircraft and possibly Saab’s Swordfish.

The government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended a decades-long policy of banning the sales of Japanese weapons overseas in 2015. Since then, Japanese arms manufacturers have taken tentative steps to offer their products to overseas arms markets.

However, they have struggled to make a breakthrough sale, often finding themselves sandwiched between more established defense companies with experience in the global arms market and smaller rivals with price points for their products that Japanese companies are unable to match.

There is good news for Japan’s arms export efforts in India, with ShinMaywa signing a memorandum of understanding with India’s Mahindra Group to set up maintenance, repair and overhaul of services for the US-2 amphibious aircraft in India. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)
There is good news for Japan’s arms export efforts in India, with ShinMaywa signing a memorandum of understanding with India’s Mahindra Group to set up maintenance, repair and overhaul of services for the US-2 amphibious aircraft in India. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)

Japan has more than 30 P-1s in service or on order for its maritime self-defense forces to replace its P-3 Orions, though it has not budgeted for any since ordering 20 aircraft in 2015. The P-1 has already been offered for a number of foreign acquisition programs, but it notably lost out to the P-8 in the United Kingdom.

It seems New Zealand will also turn down the P-1 and acquire the P-8 for its own P-3 replacement program, with an eye toward operational, training and sustainment commonality with next-door neighbor Australia, which is in the midst of receiving 15 P-8s it has on order.

There is, however, better news for Japan’s arms export efforts in India, with ShinMaywa signing a memorandum of understanding with India’s Mahindra Group to set up maintenance, repair and overhaul of services for the US-2 amphibious aircraft in India during the recent DefExpo defense exhibition in Chennai.

The memorandum also covers the manufacturing and assembly of structural parts and components for the aircraft, although it falls far short of India’s hope that the aircraft will be manufactured in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India initiative. Negotiations are still underway for the sale of what is expected to be 12 to 15 US-2s to the Indian Navy.

India had expressed an interest in acquiring the US-2 as far back as 2015, but as Tokyo-based defense analyst James Simpson tells Defense News, ShinMaywa was at the time reluctant to pursue foreign sales due to its production constraints, with the prospect of Japan ordering more than the six aircraft for which it was originally contracted.

The order failed to materialize, and ShinMaywa is now expected to have the production capacity to meet an Indian order; although a contract signature might still be far off given India’s notoriously glacial pace of defense acquisitions.

The acquisition is driven in a large part by both governments, which are seeking a closer strategic partnership as a counter against an increasingly powerful and assertive China.

Euan Graham, director of international programs at Australia’s Lowy Institute, said this political top-down approach is a poor model to follow, with defense acquisition programs “prone to coming unstuck if driven at a political level, without early service buy-in and a clear operational requirement.”

Indian sources have echoed local reports, telling Defense News that the Navy hierarchy is not keen on the US-2, although its air arm and aviators ― facing a shortfall of aircraft ― are understood to be more enthusiastic about the prospect of the US-2 entering service.